We cultural critics easily jump to conspiracy theory explanations (the media must be making up nonsense to support their corporate masters!) but the more likely answer, the more chilling one, is that those who are paid to express their opinions, or to make political decisions, for instance, are actually no better off than the rest of us when it comes to critical reasoning ability.
To that end, I give you Terence Corcoran, the National Post columnist who announced last year that plagiarism was invented by Chinese Communists to persecute right-wing journalists, or something like that, anyways. Now, Corcoran is a smart and experienced man. He would probably pass the seasons test.
Which is why it’s so disturbing when he says things like, as he did this week, “there is a solid economic policy case in favour of abandoning the idea of mitigating climate change by trying to control carbon emissions… in favour of doing something about the effects of the weather, whatever the cause of the floods and hurricanes.” In short, forget emissions cuts, green energy, and all that. Rather than “spend vast amounts of money to reduce carbon emissions,” we should just build in the assumption that climate change could happen and spend money mitigating its effects.
It’s been a very long time since an actual climate change denialist posted on this blog, so much as I would love to feel like I’m doing something useful in that regard, I won’t bother regaling you with all the reasons why this is terrible advice. I’ll just point out that we will continue exacerbating climate change as long as we continue burning fossil fuels at very high rates. Climate change isn’t just 2 degrees warming and that’s it. There are limits beyond which it is not plausible to say human technology can mitigate the damage, let alone the point at which mitigation stops being a cost-effective alternative to prevention.
I will point out that it raised my eyebrows when he based his claims primarily on various statements of a Real Life Scientist™, Blair Feltmate, who apparently agrees with Corcoran that there is a plausible either-or choice between cutting emissions up front or paying for the effects later. I say it raised my eyebrows, because just over a month ago, Feltmate had this to say on the subject:
“Although the CCAP [project] is focused on adaptation, limiting emissions of greenhouses gases is a mutually important priority and should also be pursued.”
Well, whatever. Frankly Dr. Feltmate’s perspective, whatever it might be, isn’t the issue here.
Corcoran’s basic thesis — that we shouldn’t worry about cutting carbon emissions, because it will always be cheaper to pay for the damages later — sounds like the opposite of common sense, let alone basic proverbs. Still, it’s not necessarily bad advice if you also happen to believe that we are rapidly nearing peak oil — the point at which oil production begins to decline. After all, if we were only a few years away from reaching the end of our oil reserves anyways, then we could just race pell-mell to the bottom of the barrel, or at least the well, and then figure out what to do next. Problem solved!
The problem is, Corcoran doesn’t believe that. The theory of peak oil, he recently claimed, has been “killed.” Note the language. Not just wrong in the details, but wrong, period. If it’s really true that the growth in oil consumption will never peak, it naturally follows that the growth in carbon emissions from petroleum sources will also never peak. And it naturally follows from that premise that the cost of climate change mitigation is also infinite.
At this point it’s simply an elementary math problem to demonstrate that climate change prevention, which we can agree is definitely finite (but maybe very expensive), is cheaper than climate change mitigation, which is infinite (and therefore even more expensive).
Incidentally, Corcoran has also emerged as a noted critic of what he calls “peak growth theory,” which would seem to imply that energy consumption from all sources, not just fossil fuels, is also infinite. Of course, I’ll grant you, the second necessarily follows from the first. However, in some respects the notion that there is no such thing as peak growth is even more alarming than the notion that there is no such thing as peak oil.
Sooner or later, the Malthusians are going to be right and the Pollyannas are going to be wrong. The difference between Corcoran and myself is that if my side continues to lose this debate for another thousand years, nothing would make me happier. That, by the way, is also the difference between being an alarmist and being a realist, something which our critics have yet to realize.Tweet